The Netherlands will go into a total lockdown from tonight, with all but essential shops closing, as well as schools, museums, gyms and hairdressers.
Prime minister Mark Rutte will announce the measures in a speech to the nation at 7pm, but many have already been leaked or confirmed via official channels, broadcaster NOS said.
However, reports that a curfew might be part of the package, particularly at New Year, have not yet been confirmed.
Both primary and secondary schools will be shut from Wednesday and will shift back to online education. Daycare centres will also close, but will remain open for parents who work in essential professions.
Gyms, pools and saunas must also close their doors, but dentists and physiotherapists can continue to practice. Sex workers must also shut up shop until January 19.
Marc Bonten, a microbiologist and member of the government’s Outbreak Management Team, said the decision to close schools and nurseries was a sign of how seriously the cabinet was taking the numbers.
‘Young children don’t contribute very much to the spread of the virus, so the immediate effect will be small,’ he said. ‘The main reason for doing this is so that parents have to stay home and don’t travel as much.
‘We tabled the idea of closing schools, but we didn’t advise on whether or not to do it. We didn’t give any firm advice. We said we were very concerned and that strong measures were needed.’
The cabinet has decided to take drastic steps because the number of positive coronavirus tests has been rising steadily, reaching almost 10,000 on Sunday. Ministers had set a target of 3,600 cases per day by mid-December.
People will be urged to stay home as much as possible and to avoid visitors, with no more than two allowed apart from on December 25 and 26, when there is a maximum of three guests.
Hotels can remain open but cannot serve their guests either food or drink.
‘The situation is very serious,’ health minister Hugo de Jonge said after Monday morning’s cabinet meeting. ‘The figures have gone up sharply in recent days and we have to reduce pressure on the care services.’
Ministers are also concerned that people are no longer taking the measures to combat the virus seriously. Over the past week, police have handed out 543 fines to people who were not keeping to the coronavirus rules, and ended 50 illegal parties.
Officials also believe that tougher rules are easier to enforce.
Non-food retail sector organisation Inretail said in a reaction that the new lockdown will be a disaster for its members, given that December is the most important month of the year, and many will now be stuck with Christmas stock.
However, Dutch central bank chief Olaf Sleijpen told broadcaster NOS that the bank favours a hard lockdown now because hopefully the economy will then be able to recover more quickly.
Ministers met to finalise the package of measures on Monday morning, after which political party leaders were briefed by the prime minister.
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